Former Crystal Palace winger Jason Puncheon has spoken of first spotting Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the club’s academy.
Now studying for his coaching A License, Puncheon hopes that one day he can be on the sidelines bringing through the next generation. It’s an experience he has tasted already, mentoring Manchester United defender Wan-Bissaka during his breakthrough at Palace.
He told the Palace website: “Wilf [Zaha] won’t like me saying this, but this is how it came about,” he says mischievously. “Every international break we used to play 11 v 11 between us, and we didn’t have a right-back.
“Sam [Allardyce] said to the guys down the road at the Academy: ‘Can you send someone over?’ [then-Academy coach] Richard Shaw sent over Aaron to play right-back.
“In that 11 against 11, Wilf did not get past Aaron once. Not once. Then from time to time he was training with us, and Sam began to see how quick his feet were. He kept him around, and that summer he came on pre-season tour.
“A pivotal point was in January. He said to Roy [Hodgson]: ‘Can I go out on loan?’ Roy said: ‘No, stay here and you’ll get a chance. I don’t know when, but you will get a chance.’
“Then [Joel] Ward got suspended and he started against Tottenham, marking [Heung-min] Son. We didn’t see nothing of Son.”
Puncheon tells this story with pride. Yes, he is a former player, but he is also a south London boy who gets a thrill out of local youngsters coming through the ranks.
“I used to look after Aaron quite a lot while he was integrating into the first-team,” he says. “He’s a brilliant lad, and fair play to him… He’s worked his socks off.”